I walk up Irving Park to wait for the Ashland bus back home. There’s a guy at the stop. He’s in coveralls, standing a foot off the curb, looking east, then west, his breath visible in every cold puff. His mask is under his chin like a kerchief.
The bus comes and he starts yammering at the driver before even sitting down. He spreads his bags on the seat next to him and makes himself at home. He doesn’t bother to put his mask on.
I have headphones in so I don’t catch much of what he says. No passenger who gets on meets his eye or even looks his way. They edge as far as they can away as they pass, pretending to look down or out the opposite window. He’s our proverbial elephant in the room.
During a lull in the podcast I’m listening to, I hear him saying that there are microchips in the coronavirus vaccine, that it’s a plot against black people. My show comes back on and I look out the window, not wanting to hear the pretzel logic that got him to this conspiracy theory. After five years of daily statements of fantasy as fact, I have no more capacity to humor it.
I wonder why the bus driver encourages him. I understand it’s dangerous to confront fools in public. People are getting beat up for asking others to even put a mask on. Maybe the driver is bored. Maybe he believes the same ravings. I don’t know or care. I text a friend about what I’m seeing and she answers that maybe he’ll die soon. That’s where we’re at.
It feels like a Tower of Babel moment. People all yelling past one another in their own languages, each completely convinced of their righteousness. A good rule of thumb, I think, is to ask whether what a person says is geared toward anything but self-interest. If there’s at least an acknowledgment of the wider world, there’s a better chance that it might actually be true.
The guy gets off the bus and I try to forget about him. No one says anything else about it. Then another guy with no mask gets on.
—I’ve always been a small-picture guy. I can describe what’s in front of my face, but I’m wary of larger statements. So I’m always impressed when others do it well. Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland is a pretty accurate snapshot of this country right now. And Adam Curtis’s epic new Can’t Get You Out of My Head connects many disparate strands into a portrait of the last seventy years, leading to the present moment. He introduced me to Arkady Severny, whose songs I listened to for hours (ending up with the playlist above). Curtis’s essay-films are what I imagine George Orwell would be doing if he lived in this era.
—I wrote about the painter Amy Sillman’s great essay book.